"When I came to London as a teen it looked like a foreign land," says my Italian mother every time she visits me. "Now I hear people speaking Italian so much it doesn't even feel like I'm abroad." And isn't that the truth: a stroll down the capital's streets is all it takes to feel like Italians are taking over the country. Sorry to break it to you though, immigration plot-theorists: we're not here to live off the Government's benefits.
London hosts over 250,000 Italians, enough to form a city like Verona. You've probably heard us talking loudly on the phone to our parents, or seen us walking, baffled, among the Oxford Street crowd.
"What are they doing here, those Italians?" you may wonder. I mean, we have it pretty sweet at home. Our working day isn't nearly as long as Britain's. In Italy, we have actual seasons and fresh food every day. In most places we can even afford to rent a decent flat.
In the United Kingdom, the baffling, quick, no-antibiotics, impersonal National Health Service is miles away from our worried and always available private GPs. Fruit and vegetables at the supermarket taste like plastic and it's just so bloody cold. Why, then, do we go to London and complain?
It all comes down to one thing: failure. In London, you're allowed to fail; in Italy, you're not. Despite the whole Christopher Columbus thing, Italians are not very adventurous when it comes to dreaming. They can't be: although new policies are slowly leading the country towards competitiveness, Italy still has one of the most complicated bureaucracies and tax systems that affect the birth of new businesses.
Starting up in Italy is counterproductive, while in the UK you can try, fail, get up again - and if you work hard enough, there will eventually be a place for you.
Italians see London as a promised land to grow and thrive in. My generation grew up with the myth of the BBC, the Royal Family, the Spice Girls and Brit-Pop, looking at Britain like a daring, challenging country that lets everyone in, but rewards only who works hard enough. When we compare it with our faded TV starlets and with our corruption-saturated society, Britain still looks like our best shot.
Despite what the raging immigration debate seems to suggest however, this mass of unskilled, Italian (and foreign) workers isn't here to take advantage of the welfare system or the free NHS. We don't come here to flood your coffee shops or change the UK for the worst: contrary to stereotypes, Italians in London are making an impact on all sectors. There's an Italian GP in South London, there are Italian lawyers in the City and Italian schools all over the country.
Eager to tell their stories, Italians in London are now crowd-funding their own projects. Hip London Fields restaurant Il Cudega was funded through Indiegogo. A goal-smashing film about Italians made by Italians, Luca Vullo's Influx, shows all the possible lives Italians in London can lead in the UK. Italian Kingdom, the UK's own lifestyle website for Italians, is now looking to publish a crowd-funded book including portraits of fellow countrymen living in the capital.
There's little or no evidence that immigration to London has reduced job opportunities for the native population, writes Jonathan Portes, Director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, for The Londonist. Immigration's economic benefits make London the most productive part of the UK, and "there is hardly a business or public service in London which doesn't depend on immigrant workers -- from supermarkets and sandwich shops to law firms, tech start-ups and research institutes".
Changing the UK's immigration laws to restrict the influx of these skilled, flamboyant and yes, loud, workers might end up changing the country's landscape, and for the worse. Think about that next time you complain your pizza isn't up to Italian standards.